World Tourism Day will raise awareness of the value of the sector to society, says Nikki White, director of destinations and sustainability at Abta

Next Wednesday is World Tourism Day, a day designed to raise awareness of the role of tourism and to demonstrate its value socially, culturally, politically and economically worldwide.

This year, as part of the UN International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, the focus of World Tourism Day is how sustainable tourism can be a tool for development.

The UN states that not only does our sector spearhead growth, it also improves the quality of people’s lives. It can bolster environmental protection, champion diverse cultural heritage, and strengthen peace in the world. That’s a pretty tall order but one I think that our industry can contribute to.

Managed responsibly, tourism creates better places to live and better places to visit. It makes good business sense therefore to adopt a more sustainable approach to tourism, ensuring the economic, social and environmental aspects are considered.

Benefits of tourism

Tourism can be of immense economic benefit to destinations. Most people appreciate these benefits and accept that at certain times of year they will have to share their cities and resorts with significant numbers of tourists.

However, when tourism is not managed properly problems can arise and this summer the issue of ‘overtourism’ hit the headlines.

The Isle of Skye, Venice, Dubrovnik and the Balearics have been dealing with large visitor numbers and are looking to balance welcoming tourists with protecting their destination.

We also saw anti-tourism marches in popular cities, including Barcelona and Palma, and these brought the question of how tourism is managed into the mainstream. They highlight the need to manage demand in popular destinations.

Destination governments should balance the positive impact of tourism with the negative, and look for value rather than just volume. All destinations are individual and face different challenges; there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach.

Better Places programme

At Abta, we work with destinations and local authorities to ensure tourism is beneficial to everyone, including local people. Our Better Places programme provides members with tools and information on how to be more sustainable.

This includes managing and monitoring the environmental, economic, cultural and social impacts of their business activities. It also raises awareness among customers of responsible tourism including cultural and environmental sensitivity at their destination.

Abta supports travel companies to drive sustainability in their supply chain, for example with Travelife, an international sustainability certification for hotels and accommodation providers. Travelife helps to ensure hotels operate with fair practices and protect guests, employees and the local community in which they operate.

Our industry can be a powerful force for positive change and it is right that we consider our impact on host‑destination environments, economies and communities. This World Tourism Day (September 27), I urge us all to ask what role we can play.